Judge Aquilina denies motion to disqualify herself from Nassar's case
Judge Rosemarie Aquilina denied a motion to disqualify herself from ex-MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar's case at a hearing held Friday.
Aquilina denied the motion after two of Nassar's attorneys submitted an appeal citing bias from Aquilina, who sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in Ingham County.
In the appeal, Jacqueline McCann and Malaika Ramsey-Heath argue that Aquilina was biased in Nassar's case because she publicly identified herself as an advocate for the survivors of Nassar's sexual abuse, gave "repeated indications" prior to Nassar's sentencing hearing that she had already determined to impose the maximum sentence and more.
Attorney Ramsey-Heath and Chief Deputy Attorney General Laura Moody comment
Ramsey-Heath, one of Nassar's attorneys, approached the podium and said Aquilina's public comments, including those on Facebook and Twitter, reference Nassar's case directly and that some indicate a bias.
She said the court has posted numerous articles "glorifying the work that this court did" and responded to numerous members of the public "complimenting this court on the job they did."
"Dr. Nassar has the right to continue this process," Ramsey-Heath said. "His case is not over. It did not end upon conviction. The appellate process must be allowed to take place. This court had to have known that, under the court rules, the case would likely come back before it if doctor Nassar chose to exercise his right to appeal."
Chief Deputy Attorney General Laura Moody said that the statements mad by Aquilina during Nassar's sentencing in Ingham County appropriately reflected public outrage and the pain of survivors of Nassar's abuse.
She said that Aquilina's comments and actions were pro-survivor, not anti-Nassar.
"Courts have said that a court may be - a trial court sentencing court, that is - may be exceedingly ill-disposed towards a defendant who has been shown to be a thoroughly reprehensible person," Moody said. "If there's anyone who could be thoroughly reprehensible, it's Larry Nassar."
Moody said Nassar received exactly the sentence he bargained for in his plea deal and that a gag order was imposed on parties and the survivors to not prejudice Nassar.
She also said that Aquilina's comment about signing Nassar's "death warrant" was factual, as he is a child molester.
Aquilina responds to motion to have her removed from Nassar's case
Aquilina said she had 156 survivors testify before her during Nassar's sentencing in Ingham County and Nassar was sentenced to 93.5 days per survivor who testified.
"That is what the domestic violence first gets," Aquilina said. "So, you can call it bias. I call it a strange situation that I agreed to."
Aquilina said she asked Nassar several times if he wanted to withdraw his plea and she did not make up her mind about Nassar's sentence before his sentencing hearing.
"I said the world was watching because I couldn't pretend that there's no cameras in the courtroom," she said. "It's not a secret."
Aquilina said she had to trademark her name because shirts were made with her name on them. She said she didn't think she had been "heavy handed to either side."
She said she had nothing to do with a previous attempt to attack Nassar in the courtroom in Eaton County or his alleged attack in prison. She said she had security in her courtroom in order to protect Nassar.
"How I have that much power, I do not know," Aquilina said.
Aquilina said Nassar is a danger to society, that he has "buyer's remorse" and wants a redo of his plea in Ingham and Eaton County.
"He has buyer's remorse," Aquilina said. "He's really seeking a reduction. In time, he's really seeking a second chance."
Aquilina said she's "always been an advocate for justice and for the right side."
She asked, if she were to flip the situation, would Nassar's attorney be an advocate for child abuse or sexual assault by defending Nassar.
"I don't think it's what you're saying," Aquilina said.
Aquilina said Nassar's attorneys failed to mention the negative coverage of her. She said she thinks there's a balance in society.
"Bias? No. Justice? Yes," she said.
Aquilina denies motion to disqualify
Aquilina denied the motion to disqualify herself from Nassar's case.
Nassar's attorneys are requesting to have the case reviewed by the chief judge. Aquilina will retain the case and she said she will correct any error she has made.
"The defendant pled guilty, to his own acknowledgement," Aquilina said. "I followed the law. I followed the rules. The sentence was fair. The math doesn't lie. It was done with a logical basis."
Next steps in motions
Andrea Vitely, director of communications for Attorney General Bill Schuette, said that if Chief Judge Richard Garcia thinks that Aquilina showed a bias, he will say she showed a bias and if he thinks she didn't, he will say she didn't.
"Judge Aquilina presented herself. She explained exactly why she sentenced Larry Nassar the way she sentenced him," Vitely said. "He pleaded guilty to abusing children; sexually abusing children."
She said it's a possibility that "we could be seeing another sentencing hearing, similar to the previous one."
If the chief judge does not find a bias in Aquilina's sentencing, Vitely said the case could go through the appellate process, to the Michigan Court of Appeals or to the Michigan Supreme Court.
"We don't believe Judge Aquilina was biased in her decision," she said. "She maintained a gag order the entire time and she showed no bias up until the point he said 'I plea guilty.'"